The motto for the University of Dayton football team this season is simple.
“The whole idea is in those close games we were in last year, we needed someone to step up and make a play,” said Dayton head coach Rick Chamberlin.
Last season the Flyers lost four of its games by nine points or less. Despite the disappointing season last year, the team still has the highest of expectations for this upcoming season.
“Expectations,” Chamberlin said, “are always high here because of our tradition and the success this team has had. So it doesn’t change much from year to year. Our number one goal is to be going into the last game of the season with the opportunity to win the Pioneer Football League.”
However, to win the PFL, the Flyers are going to have to go through the University of San Diego and Drake University, who are predicted to finish first and second respectively this season. UD is predicted to finish fourth.
According to co-captain and redshirt senior running back Taylor Harris, every game is going to be the team’s hardest game.
“Our competition doesn’t slack, every game is going to define our season,” he said.
And according to fellow co-captain and senior linebacker Colin Monnier, “this is the hardest schedule since I’ve been here.”
The team leads off with a tough game against Illinois State University, a Football Championship Subdivision scholarship program at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1, in Normal, Ill. The Redbirds are ranked No. 20 in the FCS preseason rankings. Co-captain redshirt senior cornerback Matt Pfleger is thrilled at the opportunity to play in this type of game.
“I’m really excited for the first game, Illinois St. to be honest,” he said. “We’re going into a big stadium playing a pretty good team. It’s going to be a real challenge for us and I’m looking forward to that game.”
According to Monnier, the team had a great offseason in preparation for the tough schedule.
“This whole offseason, from my perspective, our team has worked very hard,” he said. Both conditioning and running or in the film room preparing, coaches have done a great job getting us prepared.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Flyers will be led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Will Bardo, who returns for his second season as the starter. The backfield will be led by Harris, who was named to the preseason All-PFL team, as well as redshirt senior Dan Jacob.
As for the big guys up front, the senior heavy offensive line will be led by redshirt senior guards Owen Elger and Dave Allen, as well as senior tackle Tom Corcoran, according to Chamberlin.
On the defensive side of the ball, according to Chamberlin, the secondary will be the strength, “because of the experience we have back there.”
“In addition to Pfleger, we have [Kyle] Sebetic and [Howard] Savage at corner, and [Nick] Weston and [Ben] Welsh at safety,” Chamberlin said. “I feel like they’re playmakers, and that’s what we need to have this year.”
Leading the defense this year, according to Chamberlin, will be Monnier at linebacker. Joining him at linebacker will be new starters redshirt sophomores Sean Sward and Clay Krafft.
According to Chamberlin, the defensive line will be lead by redshirt senior defensive tackle Phil DeBoer, redshirt senior defensive tackle Zach Weber, and senior defensive tackle Brannon Dunn.
As for newcomers looking to have a breakout season, Chamberlin says look no further than the wide receivers.
In addition to last year’s surprise star redshirt sophomore Branden Johnson, junior Gary Hunter and redshirt freshman Ross Smith – a transfer from Holy Cross University – are looking to start at the receiver position this year. Also looking to make a name for himself is senior Robert Strong, who just made the switch from defensive back to wide receiver this past spring.
A big storyline for the upcoming season will be the kicking game, according to Chamberlin. Of the four kickers on the roster, none have any game experience kicking field goals. Chamberlin said that choosing the starter would come down to who handles the game situation the best.
“Kicking is so much mental,” he said. “You can have a guy with great ability, but if he can’t handle the situations out there and can’t be focused and mentally strong, he’s not going to be a very good kicker. It’ll come down to who can perform in a game situation.”
Another storyline will be how the offense performs with a new offensive coordinator. Coach Chris Ochs takes over after serving the past 12 seasons as UD’s offensive line coach. According to Chamberlin, while fundamentals might change, the execution of the offense will not.
“We will see a faster-paced offense, and a lot more movement such as tight ends shuffling,” he said. “But one thing you won’t see a difference in will be the execution.”
And when it’s all said and done at the end of the season, each of the co-captains has their own legacies that they want to be remembered by.
“Our desire,” Pfleger said. ”Last year’s team got in a lull, just went through the motions. I want this team to be known for its passion. You can’t play this game without passion.”
For Monnier, he wants to get back to Dayton’s winning tradition.
“I feel like last year we got away from our traditional Dayton seasons,” said Monnier. “So this year I want to bring that back, the winning tradition, win the PFL, and get back into old Dayton traditions.”
As for Harris, he expects this team to give its full effort, and hopes that turns into a championship.
“Hopefully, it would be a PFL championship,” Harris said. “They can expect us to come out and give everything we have, and we’re never going to back down.”